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Authors: Linda Barnes

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BOOK: The Perfect Ghost
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I hid behind the flowered curtain that served as the dressing room door, ashamed of my underwear. I hadn’t bothered with it much since we stopped. I should have bought new underwear first. Laura would think I was some sort of religious fanatic. A former nun. Or a prude.

Pretty underwear equals sheer vanity, that’s what the “neither here nor there” mother told me, and totally unnecessary in the young. Men sniff around young stuff like dogs in heat, but wait till you get some age on you, she’d say. When you’re young, you think you’re gonna fly first class, then life races by, and you’re lucky if you get to travel coach.

I slipped on a sweater that was somewhere between blue and purple. Laura dimpled when she saw my reflection and said periwinkle was exactly the shade for me. Said I could wear it with jeans or gray or even black. And she said the neckline was perfect, too, but I wasn’t sure what she meant by that. It was sort of a scoopy thing. She asked if I had a scarf that would coordinate, then took pity and brought me a few. One caught my eye; it was like a field of wildflowers. She tied it so it poufed where I’d have cleavage, if I had any. The scarf made me look like I might, and I could almost hear my ex–foster mother hissing about girls out to fool men with their wicked ways.

When I asked Laura if she didn’t think it was too much, she seemed surprised and slightly alarmed. She said as thin as I was, I could get away with anything. I decided to wear the new clothes and take my old ones in a bag because I wasn’t sure whether I was going to head back to the house or not. While I was paying, Laura asked if I might be planning to get my hair cut before the interview. When I said I didn’t know anyplace around there, she gave me directions to a nearby salon, scribbling them on the back of her card.

On the way out, I noticed a store with bras and panties in the window, so I stopped and bought a new bra with more shape to it. Not padding, really, just a little bit of shape to the cups. I tried it on in white, but at the last moment I changed my mind and bought it in a deep shade of rose. The color didn’t show under my new sweater, and its secret boldness made me feel brave, almost reckless. I shoved my shapeless bra in the bag and donned the new one, a corselet of lace and color, but a corselet nonetheless.

During the drive to the salon, I noticed color as though I’d never seen it before, as though I’d bought new contact lenses instead of new clothes. The whole business of color—bold, indeterminate, pale—seemed strange and different, a spicy foreign taste on my tongue. Maybe it was because spring was beginning or maybe it was the contrast with brick-and-steel Boston, but the colors seemed overwhelming, the sky, washed clean, meeting the frothy sea, and the first green shoots dotting the gray-brown marshes. My usual world was black and white, bound by words and texts, but now I felt filled with color, as though I’d trapped some of the sea and sky in my new sweater and scarf.

Had Laura said to take a right turn at the second intersection or the third? The relaxation I’d felt in the curtained changing room evaporated, and my hands tightened on the steering wheel. I passed an ice-cream shop with a flagpole, a firehouse. The landmarks were right: I must have taken the correct turn. There: the women’s clinic I’d seen advertised on the road; and across the street, the recommended parking lot with a single space, like a missing tooth, right in the first row. I filled the gap with the Focus, cut the engine, and made my exit boldly. Like a woman wearing a rose-colored bra.

 

 

CHAPTER

fourteen

 

RE: 911 follow-up

SENT BY: [email protected]

SENT ON: April 2

SENT TO: Paul Jericho, Chief of Police

Paul,

Damnedest thing. Lennie went door to door up on Willow Crest, because there’s no address like the 8725 in the 911 call. Woman named Daisy Hillerman lives at 872, widow of Ernest Hillerman, must be in her late seventies. So her brother was spending the night and the next morning he told her he called the police. They had a big argument about it. She burned Lennie’s ear off how her brother never minds his own business and thinks he’s a big shot. He can’t live alone anymore because he keeps falling down—Lennie says she made him sound like an alcoholic—and his daughter wants him to move in with Mrs. H., but she can’t stand him for more than a night. Lennie finally got a word in, asked to speak to him, and guess where he is? Italy on a cruise ship, while his daughter checks out a place for him to live, one of those independent-living places with food, because, according to his sister, he never learned to boil water. He’ll be back in ten days or two weeks, she’s not sure which. Lennie got the name of the ship; it’s a sister ship of that
Concordia
that went down off Giglio.

Lennie knocked doors all down the street, but only one other guy heard the crash although a couple got waked up by the sirens. One house was totally empty. Lennie went back to Mrs. H., who seemed like she’d know everybody’s business, and she told him the man lives there just went off to his grandson’s wedding somewhere in Oregon. You’d think people would stay where they’re supposed to be.

Told Lennie to put something out for the press.

Feeling better. Dropped by the office. Autopsy says Blake died from injuries sustained in the crash. No precipating factors, no heart attack or stroke. Still waiting on the tox.

 

Russell Snow, Detective Grade One

Dennis Port Police Department

One Arrow Point Way

Dennis Port, MA 02639

 

 

CHAPTER

fifteen

 

The salon was a small, homey place, but the girls were alarming, some with dyed black hair, and studs through their nostrils. It was hard to associate the heavy metal sound track with plump, dimpled Laura, but I mentioned her name as she’d told me to, and the receptionist said Donna would squeeze me in if I could wait twenty minutes and would I like a cup of coffee or else she could manage tea, and somehow I was perched on a high-backed couch, skimming through a pile of newpapers and fashion magazines until a small but emphatic headline in
The Cape Cod Times
sucked me in:

 

Police Seek Witness in Fatal Crash

DENNIS PORT—Theodore (Teddy) Blake, the well-known biographer who wrote under the name T. E. Blakemore, died late Saturday night after the car he was driving struck a tree off Cypress Street near the Harwich border. He was pronounced dead at the scene. There were no other passengers in the car, according to a police department spokesman.

Dennis Port police received a 911 call at 1:33
A.M.
reporting the single-car accident. They urge any witnesses to come forward.

Arnold Kellman, resident at 414 Cypress Street, said he was awoken by the sound of the crash. “I thought I heard something, but by the time I got outside, there was nothing I could do and the sirens were already wailing,” Mr. Kellman said. The road near Kellman’s home curves to the left before banking right in an S-turn between Swan Pond in Dennis Port and the West Reservoir in West Harwich. Black and yellow signs indicate the curves in the road. These signs had been recently repainted.

According to accident reconstruction investigators, Mr. Blake’s Ford Explorer careened over the center line after the first turn before crashing down an embankment about 65 feet later and into several pine trees on the opposite side of the road.

Patricia Gerson, who lives near the property where the vehicle came to rest, said drivers frequently exceed the 30 mph posted speed limit. “Everybody drives way too fast along that stretch,” she said. In the twelve years she’s lived nearby, she recalls two or three nonfatal accidents. The road near the crash site was closed for three hours.

The cause of the accident is under investigation by Detective Russell Snow of the Dennis Port Police Department, who requests that anyone who met with Mr. Blake directly prior to the accident as well as anyone who witnessed the crash contact him at 508-555-3400. The Cape Cod Regional Law Enforcement Council Accident Reconstruction Unit is also investigating, with assistance from the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office Bureau of Criminal Investigation. Police had no further updates on the accident.

I rested my index finger on the type that spelled out your name and reread the line that termed you a well-known biographer. You would have been pleased to be designated a “biographer” rather than a “ghostwriter,” but you’d have preferred “renowned” or “famous,” to “well-known.” Detective Snow was now Russell Snow, possessed of a first name that on consideration I found vaguely sinister, the hissing possibility of all those esses. Why was Snow searching for a witness? If the road was such a frequent crash site, why were so many entities investigating? Snow’s phone number glared at me reproachfully.

Donna seemed just as frightening as any of the stylists at first, as apt as not to dye my hair black and send me forth as a Goth, but she chatted amiably through her pierced lip about her kids and her dog as well as her aspirations for my hair, slowly building my confidence through conversation. And I, who am usually so good with silence, found myself confessing to the upcoming interview with Garrett Malcolm.

“The movie star? The director?”

I nodded, already sorry I’d spoken.

“Owns a big hunk of waterfront, right? Smart guy, hanging on to it. Most of the owners sold early, before the prices shot up. Between Camp Edwards and Otis Air Force Base and with the Biddle property going over to the National Seashore, there’s hardly any private land left around here.”

She took a quick snip. I tried to scrutinize the length of the severed hair she deposited on the shiny floor while obeying her order to hold still.

“I heard he’s setting up some kind of special trust, a land trust, I think they call it, something to do with conservation, to lower his property taxes. Plenty of people in town are against it, say we need all the taxes we can get for the schools and the roads. You’d think he’d just sell the whole shebang and move to Hollywood. I sure would. Who’d stay here in the snow and cold, when he could live anywhere? Malibu Beach, that’s where I’d go.”

Launched into a monologue, she didn’t seem to mind that I didn’t respond.

“As long as he doesn’t build a hotel, I could care less about his taxes.” She squinted into the mirror and tugged at my hair. “Damn property developers, turn the whole Cape into high-priced condos and fancy hotels, parcel it up, and sell it off. Kids can’t afford to live near their families anymore. Things don’t pick up around here, I’m gonna have to rent out my place this summer, bunk with a friend, earn enough to tide me over the rest of the year.”

I wondered guiltily if that was what I was doing, renting a place a townie couldn’t afford to keep.

“Anyway, I’ll get you looking hot, but then you better watch yourself. Theater’s got a worse reputation than baseball.” She gave a loud snort that turned into a chuckle. “And that Cape Cod League? If they kept track of local pregnancies, they’d have themselves a brand-new statistic. Exact same thing with the theater dudes, in spite of how they’re all supposed to be gay as ballet dancers. One girl told me they keep a list, like a directory, who’s available, who’ll do what. Slice a path through the homecoming queens every year. We get ’em all in here, weepy after they visit the clinic.”

I was glad I’d kept Brooklyn Pierce’s name to myself.

“You see the protesters out there?”

I shrugged to indicate I hadn’t noticed, but I had. I’d seen the stalwarts marching with their signs.
PREGNANT, NEED HELP?
and
LIFE, CHOOSE IT!
as if life was simple enough to fit on a placard.

“Hurts business, Steffi says, pictures of dead babies and cars honking all the time. Not that they don’t do checkups and all, but to those protest guys, it’s all about baby killing. Hey, you want me to do your makeup, too?”

I hastily refused, and she concentrated on my hair. No dye, I told her again.

She bit her lip. Sulked a little, said how about highlights?

“That’s dye, right?”

“I guess.”

“Just a trim,” I said.

“I’m shaping it.”

More hair hit the floor.

“If I had a teenage girl, I wouldn’t let her work at that theater, no way, but some people want their kids to get famous, no matter what.”

She veered back to real estate prices then, and how she hated and loved the tourists, couldn’t live with ’em, couldn’t live without ’em. And which celebrities she thought she saw last summer and how they were all over the place, bad as New York City, and how Lady Gaga bought some mansion over on Martha’s Vineyard, and if you could get a photo of her, how she really looked under all that makeup, it would be worth a fortune. I was nervous the entire time she wielded the scissors. If I could make Garrett sound like a fool when I wrote, she could make me look like a fool, and I hadn’t even done due diligence, simply trusted a random saleswoman.

Garrett. I was shocked that I’d thought of him as Garrett, not Malcolm, not Mr. Malcolm. This interviewing in person changes everything, bombards the senses. Color instead of black-and-white, the faint tang of piney scent, the whispery touch of strange upholstery, the ocean leaping and falling in the background. Donna handed me a mirror and swiveled my chair full circle.

Just an inch shorter, but my hair was different, soft and feathery. I barely recognized myself. With the new clothes and the haircut, it was as though I’d flipped a page and discovered an unfamiliar chapter in a well-worn book. I felt reborn, new as a spearmint-colored shoot poking its head out of the hard ground.

BOOK: The Perfect Ghost
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